Madonna and Child with Saints George and Michael the Archangel

Giovanni di Niccolò Luteri, detto Dosso Dossi

Tramuschio (Mirandola), 1486 – Ferrara, 1542

Oil on wooden panel, cm 283 x 177

Inv. 437

The Galleria Estense, Modena

Dosso Dossi presumably completed this work around 1518 by commission of Duke Alfonso I d’Este for the Chiesa di S. Agostino in Modena (although there is no documentary evidence to attest this with any certainty). In 1649 the large altarpiece entered the Estense collections at the behest of Duke Francesco I d’Este. Its transferral into the collection changed its original purpose: from being an arched altar piece it took on a rectangular form more in-keeping with a picture gallery aesthetic. The composition is divided into two sections: the upper half is more restrained with the Madonna and Child sat on a crescent moon, symbol of the Immaculate Conception (Woman of the Apocalypse); the lower half shows Saint Michael the Archangel, triumphant over the defeated demon who breathes his last, and Saint George (an important saint for the House of Este) representing the militant Christian who defeats the dragon/sin that languishes at his feet. The composition references works by Raphael (the Madonna of Foligno and The Ecstasy of St. Cecilia) who was in Bologna by 1515 and instantly became a key classicist reference for the great master of the Padana school.